Our bus to Mwanza.

Traveling by bus from Tanzania to Rwanda

Bus travel in Tanzania and Rwanda – Mwanza to Kigali via Benaco/Rusumo border.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mwanza, Tanzania

Before taking the bus to Kigali, Rwanda via the Benaco/Rusumo border, we first arrived in Mwanza and stayed for a few days to check out the town and views of Lake Victoria.  Mwanza is the second largest city in Tanzania after Dar es Salaam and it is definitely a much nicer city.  Situated right on the shores of Lake Victoria the rolling hills are covered in large potato shaped rocks as big as houses, and there are great views of the water everywhere.  Many boat cruises and safaris start here, as well as bus travel further west.  It would be our last stop in Tanzania before heading to Kigali, Rwanda.

Mwanza, Tanzania.
Mwanza, Tanzania.

mwanza_tanzania_3 mwanza_tanzania_4

Hungry? Everywhere the bus stops dozens of people will come up to sell you food and drinks
Hungry? Everywhere the bus stops dozens of people will come up to sell you food and drinks
Our bus to Mwanza.
Our bus to Mwanza.

Traveling by bus from Mwanza, Tanzania to Kigali, Rwanda – Via the Rusumo/Benaco Border.

Since we could find very little online documenting exactly how this route is done, and the hotel staff and those we asked at the bus station could not help either, I have decided to write down exactly what our 16 hour bus experience was like.

First off it is possible to travel via public transportation from Mwanza, Tanzania to Kigali, Rwanda in a single day, be it a 16 hour day for us.  We bought our tickets the day before our trip from the company Nyehunge to the town of Ngara, though we would be getting off just before Ngara in Benaco.  We bought our tickets at the old bus station in downtown Mwanza along Rwagasore St.  for $20,000 TSH each.  The new bus station called Nyegezi is actually about 10 km south of downtown Mwanza, and that is where the bus will actually leave from.  The company Nyehunge and one other company alternate days for the 5am buses which leave from Nyegezi(the new bus station), going to the Rwandan border(Benaco).

We took a taxi from our hotel and arrived at the Nyegezi bus station at 4:30am, though our 5am bus did not actually leave the station until 5:30am. (My best guess for the reason for this delay is that it has to do with ferry schedules) At 5:30am our bus left and headed north taking us right back into downtown Mwanza, where it stopped at the ferry terminal in town at 6 am (actually only a few blocks from our hotel).  I suppose you could try and catch the bus at the ferry terminal, but it did not look like the best place to wait for a bus in the dark, although a few locals were waiting.  Once at the ferry terminal everyone must get off the bus and make the 50 foot pilgrimage through the ferry terminal gate, and purchase a ferry ticket for $1000 TSH.  After the bus has backed on board the ferry, we all walked on.  Once on the ferry you can get back on the bus if you wish, or walk around and take in the sunrise views of the city and Lake Victoria. The ferry takes the bus west for about 30 minutes across the water to Busisi.

Once across, our bus drove for 7 hours (6:30am – 1:30pm) arriving near the border at Benaco (also  called Nyakasanza on Google Maps).  There are signs all along the road with the name Benaco if you look for them.  Another way to tell you are there is that the bus will back up into a street to prepare for turning around and backtracking to the cut off which actually goes to Ngara.  Once at Benaco/Nyakasanza you can take a small car, stuffed with people or a small minibus which will take you to the border.  There were multiple cars and minibuses waiting for passengers when we arrived, we paid $3000 TSH each for seat in a small car, and 8 people crowded in for the remaining 20 minutes (around 15km) to the border. With 5 of us crowded in the backseat of a small toyota, we really got to know some of the locals.

Once at the border we were met by at least a dozen money changers and taxi drivers wanting to take us across the border, but don’t bother as the customs building to check out of Tanzania is in a large blue fenced off complex about 100 yards from where the car stops.  After checking out of Tanzania, you will have to walk about 15 minutes downhill to the Rwandan side. You can take a taxi if you wish (maybe if it’s raining) but it is actually a nice walk across the bridge over a waterfall, and we spotted baboons hanging out underneath the bridge.

Ebola checkpoint – Once across the bridge we were met in the middle of the road by a “medical person” wearing a face mask and rubber gloves next to an armed guard, taking travelers temperatures with an infrared device.  The Rwandan side of the border was in the middle of a large construction project when we arrived.  They are building a large nice border crossing station, but since construction was not complete when we passed through, the customs check point was actually in a small white portable building next to the road (It’s the first building you come across, and wasn’t labeled particularly well)

Entering Rwanda was free for Americans – though we were informed this changed on November 1, 2014 and now Americans have to pay $30 US, like most other nationalities.  We filled out a simple visa application at the border, you do not need to apply online or ahead of time.  Though we did have to fill out a two question Ebola questionnaire, swearing we had no symptoms, and that we had not been to West Africa recently.  After examining the simple check box form, for far longer than you would think necessary, the border agent finally granted us our visas.

Once passed the Rwandan border checkpoint it’s a simple walk for another 300 meters or so to where minibuses are waiting to take passengers to Kigali.  We were told they leave every 20 minutes (This layout will probably have changed a bit by the time you’re reading this, as their new border crossing station is built).  We hopped on board for $3000 RF each and proceeded to take the slowest bus ride imaginable. The 157 km ride took 5 hours, we think there are different types of buses, slow ones that stop constantly to let people on an off, and express buses which don’t stop as often, we made the mistake of taking a slow bus.  Though it was slow, the ride is far more scenic than the bus ride from Tanzania to the border.  Rwanda is a beautiful country!

If downtown Kigali is your goal, stay on the bus until it reaches the Nyabugogo bus station. (Nyabugogo is the closest station to downtown, and is about a 5 minute taxi or motorcycle ride away. A mototaxi is by far the cheapest and quickest option.)  Our bus stopped in two bus stations in Kigali, the first was at least a dozen kilometers east of downtown, don’t get off there if you don’t have to.

I hope our experience will help other travelers trying to take the same route!


18 thoughts on “Traveling by bus from Tanzania to Rwanda”

  1. You sure have some beautiful pictures here. Everything you write is so interesting. Are you going to come out with a book when you are done with your trip? Love, Mike & Marla

  2. Thank you so much for sharing the details of your travels, Richard! It helped to clarify what the schedules and expectations should be. We expect to make this trip in a few months.

  3. Hi. I just bought a ticket from the bus station in Mwanza to Benaco… wanted to get to Rwanda but was told this was as far as I could go from here. Was worried that I had never heard of this place, so when I got home googled Mwanza and Benaco and came up with your blog entry. Thank you so much for writing this, I now know that at least I am going in the right direction.

    It may amuse you to know that I will be going by bus there, then back a couple of days later. I will put a blog post up about it… so watch this space.

    Once again thanks for sharing your journey and this imperative information. Ali x

  4. First of all thank you for this information!

    Second, I made this journey yesterday and I can confirm this information is still valid. Even the prices!

    I can make some additions to this for fellow travelers:
    1. I was able to catch the bus at the Kamanga ferry station, so I gained an hour of sleep! I was asked to report at 5.30 am. I bought the ferry ticket for 1000 Tsh, then waited a bit until the bus arrived. Then there was no problem to get on the bus, after it boarded the ferry. The ferry then took off at 6.00 am. At 1pm I arrived at Benaco, where I took the overloaded car to the border.

    2. I took a minibus to Kayonza which costs 2000 RWF and takes 2.5 hours. To Kigali it costs 3000 RWF.

    3. I have an east Africa tourist visa, which is valid for Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. I can confirm it is multiple entry. So you can leave those three countries and go back within the three months of the visa.


  5. Thank you so much! We are headed in opposite route, wanting to circle lake Victoria from Kenya thru Uganda to Rwanda then through Tanzania back to Rwanda. I am hoping there is a bus running in other direction from Rwanda border to mwanza….. Also looking for advice regarding bus from Kampala to Kigali and Kigali to TZ border…

    1. Sorry I meant to say kenya to Uganda to Rwanda to Tanzania to kenya. We want to stop in jinga, Kampala, Kigali and mwanza then to narok,

    2. Hi Margaret,
      My husband and I are doing the same route you did (Rwanda to Mwanza, Tanzania). Did you have any luck doing Richard’s route backwards?. If so, would you please tell us how you did it?. We have done our research but there isn’t that much info about it.
      Thank you so much! :)

  6. Thank you so much for this – the info here was incredibly helpful. I just did the same journey with two friends a few days back (Sept 21, 2016), and most everything remains the same, including prices.

    One small new detail: Tanzania and Rwanda now both have “one-stop border control” at each end. This means you do both your Tanzanian exit AND your Rwandan entry at the same border control office. If you are entering Rwanda, you proceed directly to the Rwandan border – you do NOT need to stop at the Tanzanian border control office (they won’t give you an exit stamp – they’ll just send you over to Rwanda!). You can get the shared taxi from Benaco to drive you all the way to the Rwandan border control for TSH5,000 per person (vs the 3,000 to the Tanzanian post).

  7. All your comments are very useful!! We are planning a Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda & back to Kenya trip for December! This really helps, especially the updated information.
    Are there any suggestions for accommodation in Mwanza & Kigali?

  8. I’m thinking about doing this trip by myself, do you think it will be safe doing it alone? And how was the roads and the drivings skills in general?

    Thank you


  9. So Much Great Information! This October we will be doing this trip, and have been researching overland information. Has anyone had success in crossing from Rwanda to Tanzania? We will have an East Africa Visa, but are wondering if the Tanzanian tourist visa is available at the border? Would anyone suggest taking the train from Mwanza to Dar es Salaam? Thanks in advance!

  10. Very useful information. I would like to know the accommodation rates in Kigali. The cheap ones of course in which one can find a self contained room with a working multi channel television.

  11. Did this trip on 16 July. Everything more or less still the same price and timing. Took me over 14 hours – a bit of a grind. Comments from me: I got on at the ferry in Mwanza. No problems there. You can be pick up water and snacks there too. Tickets for the bus were still being sold down there. We reached the other side of the lake at 0730. The road isn’t bad for the first half of the trip and then you get to roadworks and it’s a bit slower. The last 30K or so to Bunaco is a right crawl. 4 in the back of a car to the border as reported above. That’s fun. Also as mentioned the car takes you straight to the Rwanda side now for one stop processing. It’s TSH4000. Checking out of TZ is a breeze then you shuffle along to the Rwanda entry window. You are then sent to “window 7″ to pay your visa fee. That window sends you to the small bank there to pay. It’s not too stressful. You can also change money at the bank at the same time so probs best to do it there than with the hassle guys outside. Then it’s back to the original window to get stamped. Now here I had trouble as the guy asked where I was staying and I didn’t have a ready answer as I was at an airbnb place. I should have prepared a hotel name in Kigali in advance but I didn’t and he got suspicious when I gave him the private address. In the end he gave me the minimum stay possible based on my travel plans. All his previous smiles had disappeared. So have a hotel name sorted in advance if you are staying private. Now the minibuses from the border. Yeah mine was a crawler too. 5 hours of stop start. I’m not sure you’d get much quicker. The minibuses have speed limiters fitted too 60kph I think. I believe that the smart coach company Ritco run a service but it wasn’t around when I turned up so minibus it was. I arrived in Kigali at 2000 local time. I would cache Google Maps for Kigali before you set off and use GPS to keep track of where you are cos the main bus station is north of the city and if you are staying in Remara for example you can defo get off earlier. That’s about it I think. It’s a bit of a grind as I said bit Kigali and Rwanda in general is a great place and it’s worth it in the end.

    Cheers, Martin

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